I started this post almost a month ago, and put it aside thinking it was too boastful, having such great food and amazing wines, but it dawned on me that this is the forum for such writing, and there isn't much available on the web about the 1971 Ausone, so here it goes...
I thought it would interest my readers to deconstruct the planning of a great meal and great wine pairing. Here goes...
Once again, my New Yorker friend O was in town to cook and eat and dine out in the Bay Area splendor last weekend. This is happening more often, as he is trying to gain a foothold in the Bay Area in the wine industry. He was coming with 2 lbs of chantrelles from Seattle as well --a perfect excuse for a bacchanal. We did parallel shopping - his at the SF Ferry Building, within an hour of landing, and mine at 4th street Berkeley. We knew we wanted to cook game and I had seen some nice looking squab at Cafe Rouge Meat Market the day before, so I headed there. They had perfect quail this day, so it was an easy decision. (And because squab are $9 apiece. eek.) The cell-calls started with "I'm thinking figs with the quail" "Me too." Just the week for perfect figs everywhere I turn.
A few more cell-calls and the dinner was settled. We would start with my grilled quail with figs with fig-balsamic glaze, then parpadelle with chanterelles and pumpkin cream, followed by a fresh nectarine galette I made earlier in the day.
The wine was a really tough choice. I was thinking about Pinot, so I had already set out a '99 Confuron Cotes du Nuit Village 2003, and a Foley 2000 Santa Maria. O was thinking Beaujolais. He had a 2005 Morgon. And as a special treat, the day before, I pulled out an old bottle from what was my Dad's cellar, a 1971 Chateau Ausone. We quickly put back the 2 pinots, thinking the fruityness would overwhelm both the quail and pasta. Desert was going to be easy: 2001 Chateau Guirauld Sauternes. 2001 was a spectacular year, and the Guirauld is a nice bright bottle.
We needed someting to drink while we cooked, so I had a 2000 Chateau de la Maltroye Chassagne Montrachet chilled and ready to go. The bottle was in great shape, but perhaps a year past its prime. I would drink it if you have any around. Mine came from the Wine House, but I believe I bought the last bottle.
The bottle volume on the Ausone was good, with the liquid well into the neck of the bottle. For those who are buying old Bordeaux, make sure you proceed with caution with a bottle that looks like it's lost some volume, chances are that it is shot. Also, don't open a bottle like this until the last minute, and decant it only to avoid the sediment. Often, even with a premier-cru bottle like Ausone, it fades very quickly. And always have a backup plan. More times than not, an old one like this in amusing, but totally without much life left.We decanted this one a half hour before the quail were to be served, but thought the fresh Morgon would be the perfect wine.
Turns out, the '71 was in great shape. There was still lots of fruit, matured into something balanced and lovely. This was probably a tough wine when it was put down, 35 years ago. This is not some cherry-fruit-bomb thing, but a floral, heady wine with old cigar box, licorice, cocoa and blackberry aromas. Drink this up. It's great now and won't get any better sitting around your cellar.
Grilled Quail with Figs and Fig-Balsamic glaze
Serve a whole quail per person as an appetizer, 2 for an entrée.
Each boneless quail half needs 1 large sage leaf, 2 perfect slices of procuitto, salt & pepper.
You can make this ahead of time.
Lay a piece of prociutto on the work surface and put a large sage leaf on it. The place a half quail on top. Season with salt & pepper and wrap each quail tightly in the prosciutto and set aside. A leg or two sticking out is no problem.
Light a good wood fire - I use mesquite. When the coals are white and the flames tamed, grill the quail for 4 minutes a side. On the first turn, baste the top with a little fig-balsamic.
You can get this from LuLu's Mail Order. You can serve the quail on some nice greens as a wonderful appetizer.